This is a blog about the joys of owning, riding, maintaining, falling off, talking about, and wandering around muddy fields looking at MOTORCYCLES by a die-hard, old school biker. Yes folks, I’ve been doing this to myself – in all weathers – since I was 15 years old. I was 58 in March so that’s what… about 70% of my life and the most constant thing in it. Now I’m half deaf with permanent tinnitus (should’ve worn earplugs), the screws in my knees have gone, and I have arthritis in my hands, arms and neck… but, if I had all the money I’ve ever spent on bikes, I’d spend it on bikes.
This is not however a blog about all the technical stuff. I’m a decent home mechanic, and I’ve kept a small classic fleet running as everyday transport since the early-80s, often on a painfully low budget, but I’m no engineer and I’m certainly not a restorer. I’m terrible at painting and body work – even when I really try – and I can’t afford to get a professional job done. I don’t drive a car so I use my bikes every day and, like me, they are far from new. Like it or not, I am a rat biker. It’s not a deep personal statement, and I hugely admire people who can keep their bikes in pristine condition but I like riding mine a lot more than cleaning them so there you go. Obviously, there’ll be the odd reference to fixing things, but I’ll leave the guides to the experts. As well as riding, what really interests me is the motorcycle – and the biker – in popular culture. As a kid, I got into the life as much because of movies and pulp novels as I did coveting the style of the ton-up boys I saw on the roads. And be honest, wasn’t it the same for you? So, this is more about the experience of being a life-long biker from the perspective of a dreamer and a cultural historian as much as a journeyman grease monkey.
If you were wondering about the nicknames, I really am a professor and a Doctor of Philosophy, though ‘Prof’ oddly came from way back when I was a little teenage grebo hanging around the local biker pub in the 1970s, kindly tolerated by the proper road warriors, probably because I always had a line on some good drugs. I was well-read for a council estate kid, a bit of a maven, and this earned me the mock-academic epithet of which I was quite proud. They may even have put the seed of ambition into me, later developed through meeting the middle-class students that were also part of the provincial ‘alternative’ scene of ageing hippies, punks, goths, crusties, and bike clubs, all uneasily united by drug culture, unemployment, free festivals, and a shared hatred of skinheads. Also, not being able to play guitar or kick a football, I realised quite early on that education was going to be my way out.
Anyway, in one of my last UK academic gigs before I ‘retired’, ‘went into the private sector’, got made redundant without a final salary pension (long story) – I vary the reason depending on how well I know the listener, but I’m giving you all three – I was awarded a generous research grant to study ‘The biker in film, fiction and fashion’. This was with a view to producing a book provisionally entitled The Devil Rides a Norton Commando, playing on the old ‘Jesus Rides a Harley’ T-shirt and my favourite British biker horror stories, the NEL paperback The Bike from Hell by Alex Stuart and the movie I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle. I started spending my grant on books and rare DVDs and interviewed some local legends, writing the first three chapters. Then I got the bullet, and the project went on hold, indefinitely as it turned out. I mean, you’ve got to make a living, ain’t ya? And as far as actually selling my writing goes, my ticket to ride has always been the history and the creative writing. That’s what I’m known for. (In fact, as the guy who secured my funding for the biker project was on the way out as well, I often wonder if he gave my wacky pitch the money just to piss off management…)
I never forgot this project though. I still love and collect biker movies and read the relevant cultural studies, magazines, and popular histories. And throughout the pandemic, it’s been the bikes that have kept me sane. With all that lock-down and self-isolation time I’ve rebuilt my BSA and finally started ‘restoring’ (bobbing) my BMW, which has been dead and rotting away for nigh on 20 years. Every night after work, and most weekends, I’m in the workshop painting (badly), rewiring, and working on engines. Not being able to get out much for a couple of years made old bike movies, books, and games like Road Redemption even more essential to my soul. With this in mind, last year I thought I might finally get down to writing about bikes again. I already blog, but this subject didn’t fit the others. (To get an idea of what I do, if you care, all of these can be accessed through my website.) This one is much more personal.
So, the plan here is to write about the biker in popular culture, in an accessible and hopefully fun way, with retrospective reviews and recommendations, sometimes on genre classics, sometimes more obscure sources. There’ll also be some life writing, and I’m hoping I can get some other bikers to contribute some of their own stories, especially how they got into bikes in the first place, and what and why they ride. (So if you’re interested in getting involved, please drop me a line.) I might even drop in a short story or two. Basically, if you want to read about the time I rode a 1959 BSA from Norwich to Edinburgh in one night when I was a kid – and all the attendant disasters that befell me – or fancy a history of the leather jacket, 1970s ‘Hell’s Angel’ paperbacks, or the cultural significance of ‘Leader of the Pack’, then this is the place. If, on the other hand, you need to know how to change the brake pads on your Ducati, then scroll on by.
Either way, thanks for looking. And remember, Ride Hard or Stay Home.
All the Best